I have a confidentiality sheet that all pre-medical and medical students must sign before shadowing me. It outlines the confidentiality rules such as you may not disclose the name, condition or any other identifying information of any of the patients that you encounter during the shadowing experience. It also outlines that your may not write on any patient document while in the hospital and it outlines that you will observe all rules and regulations as you are directed by the staff of the hospital. These rules are for protection of the privacy of my patients and are pretty clearly outlined before you come to the hospital.
I ask that shadowers dress in business attire for the experience. This includes suits for males and suit or dress and jacket for females. I don’t ask for white coat because I seldom wear one. I have a badge that identifies you as a Student Observer that you will wear on your jacket along with a name tag. My patients expect that you will be professionally dressed and they are made aware of your presence. If I am going to be doing any procedures that you will be observing, I obtain their permission before you are allowed to observe anything. The staff is quite aware that I have shadowers from time to time and are very helpful in terms of making you feel comfortable. They understand the process and are happy to help me make sure that you have a good experience.
What I expect you to do
I expect you to have some expectations of what you want to achieve in participating in this experience. You should write down a few objectives and have these ready for me to go over with you. Are you there to learn about my specialty? Are you there to learn about the practice of medicine in 2008? Are you there to discuss your chances of admission into medical school? Are you there because you need an additional letter of recommendation for medical school? In short, jot down a few objectives for your visit and have them handy.
I expect you to bring a copy of your Curriculum Vitae (resume). If you have a photo attached, so much the better but I take a digital photo of you and place it with my copy of the signed Confidentiality sheet. If I am writing a letter of recommendation, I like to look at the photo and make sure that I remember the person correctly. Sometimes people will ask for a letter several weeks after their shadowing experience and I like to make sure that I remember the person.
I also like for you to bring a copy of your Personal Statement (PS) and the medical schools that interest you. I usually read your PS before we begin the day and I often offer tips for making the document stronger. I also can provide some information about specific schools that might be helpful to you. I can also suggest particular schools that might be a good fit for you too. Again, I add your PS and schools list to the folder that contains the documents that I have mentioned above.
I usually have people shadow on a day that I am in the hospital ,clinic and teaching. While it’s a long day, it usually gives the shadower a good experience. I usually have folks come on the day when I am not on call and have a lighter procedure day. I want to you see some cases but I also want you to have plenty of time to ask questions and understand as much about my practice as possible. I also will send you a list of the cases that I have scheduled and a brief description should you want to do some research before you observe.
Over lunch, which I provide, we usually discuss your career plans and I answer any questions that you might have. Again, I usually have taken a look at your CV, PS and schools list. If you are yet to take the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT), I usually offer some tips about preparation for this very important exam. Since you will likely sit in on one of may classes, I usually give you a copy of my lecture notes so that you can follow along. The class is a great time for you to meet some of my pre-clinical medical students or some of the third-years that are on my service. They usually have loads of hints and suggestions about application to medical school.
When the day is done, usually about 5 pm (just before evening rounds), I usually go over any questions that you might have and any expectations that you have of me that we haven’t gone over during lunch. If you need a letter of recommendation, I ask that you provide a deadline for me so that I can make sure that you letter is out in a timely fashion.
Most shadowers get a chance to participate in morning rounds, a few cases, in my clinic and sit in on a class or lecture. I think that while the day is pretty full for you, it gives you a fairly realistic idea of what this profession involves. After all, this is your shadowing experience and you have a short period of time to make the most of your experience. I also feel that you need to have exposure to the daily routine of what I do so that you can compare your shadowing experience with me to others that you might have. Again, this gives you a more realistic experience.
Finally, I do have people who come back for a second day sometimes. These folks usually have shadowed me early in their undergraduate career and now want to spend a little more time working on buffing their application before they submit it. I certainly do not ever have a problem with this. I definitely recommend that people shadow at several stages in their undergraduate career as sometimes the shadowing experience can hone your desire to pursue medicine if you were unsure the first time around.
Good sources of names of physicians who will allow you to shadow are the local medical societies in your locale. Most local medical societies will have lists of physicians who will work with you. I know that in many large metropolitan areas the city medical society will make all of the arrangements for you. This was how I was able to shadow several physicians before I entered medical school.
Another source of physicians who will allow you to shadow would be any medical schools that are nearby. You might contact the individual clinical departments of the medical schools which may be able to match you with the name of a physician or two that would allow you to shadow. Other resources are your family or personal physician who may provide this service or know a colleague or two that might allow you to shadow.
The important things to do are:
- Have a list of objectives that you want to accomplish on this visit.
- Find out what the dress code will be, what time you are expected to finish and what the daily agenda will be.
- Have a copy of your CV, personal statement and list of schools if possible (attach a small passport-sized photo) to your CV.
- If you need a Letter of Recommendation, be sure to provide a deadline, an address as to where the letter should be sent and if the letter is going to an individual or a committee.
The last thing is to enjoy your experience being mindful of the person who is allowing you to shadow them. This means being mindful of the confidentiality of their patients and send a letter of thanks when you are done.